The introduction of a National Funding Formula is likely to move funding from London and other metropolitan areas. Part of the success of London schools can be attributed to the ability to target resources where they are most needed. To remove these resources now puts everything which has been achieved at risk. This paper offers some reflection on why we need to fund all schools at the higher level.
In his foreword to the consultation on the Schools’ National Funding Formula, Sam Gyimah MP states unequivocally that “it matters where you live”. I don’t disagree but while he argues that this is a case for introducing a national funding formula, I would argue that it is a case for ensuring that the urban metropolitan areas do not lose out by its introduction. Growing up in a densely populated estate with little green space and where the chances of being harassed or being a victim of crime are very high is very different from spending your childhood in more advantaged areas of the country. There are very good reasons why inner city areas have historically been funded well in comparison to others and those reasons have not disappeared; indeed, in many cases they have been amplified as we become an increasingly divided society.
None of us would disagree that we want a system which allows everyone to achieve no matter where they live, but to attempt this without an injection of extra money is to risk everything which has supported the remarkable success story in London, where schools are excellent examples of how to transform the life chances of young people. This success has been against the odds when we consider the impact of multiple deprivation and disadvantage. It does cost more to ensure that young people from turbulent backgrounds, with low prior attainment, living in poverty, actually go on to achieve academic success and, of equal importance, have the confidence and self-belief to make the most of those qualifications in the future. Schools which are catering for large numbers of students with such challenges - and there are many outside urban areas, in coastal towns, for example - need extra resourcing to ensure that this actually happens.
The additional funding has clearly had an impact and to lose it now could spell disaster for our schools. Yes, some of the funding may well have supported smaller class sizes and more text books but, more importantly it has allowed us to replicate some of the experiences which make independent schools so successful and which should be an entitlement for all: a rich Arts programme, music tuition, debating, Duke of Edinburgh Award, partnerships with theatres and galleries. The enrichment programme has done so much to raise the aspiration of our students and we should note that these are the schools which have been successful in closing the gap between the rich and the poor. All this is at risk.
Sam Gyimah visited our school in November, 2014 to meet with a range of professionals who work with our students outside the classroom to support their mental health and well-being. He recognised the essential work they do to help remove the barriers to learning faced by so many of our young people. Without this support the challenges might be insurmountable and would lead to a bigger crisis in that we would have a cohort of students who do not achieve and who are not equipped to become economically and socially active citizens. Such support, however, costs money.
One of the proposals, in the consultation, is that any local decision making about school funding is removed. At present local authorities, through the Schools’ Forum, decide on the best way to allocate funds, depending on local circumstances. The Forum has representatives from all stakeholders with the majority being headteachers and school governors. They are in a unique position to target funding where it is most needed. I’ve been a head in two London boroughs which, although very close geographically, were very different in terms of pupil population and the Forum in each case was essential in ensuring funds were appropriately allocated. In recent years, the government has determined which factors may be used by local authorities to allocate funds and this has given us a taste of the turbulence we might expect in the future. One such example is the use of IDACI (Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index) as opposed to FSM (Free School Meals). IDACI determines whether a child is likely to suffer from deprivation according to the postcode where the child lives. Whilst this may be a reliable predictor in some areas, this is not the case in some urban areas, where there may be a three million pound family house next door to a similar house which is occupied by a number of families in need. Free School Meals whilst not perfect, is a far more reliable indicator than IDACI in our context.
The ability to allocate funding to meet local needs is critical in terms of improving outcomes for students. There is an assumption in the consultation that all schools within one local authority are, at present, funded at the same level. This is absolutely not the case because it is recognised that those with the most need must be given the most support. Schools within one local authority can and do receive different levels of funding.
We do not yet have the detail of the proposals but what we do know is that without extra funding there will be winners and losers and London and other urban areas are set to be among the losers. Surely it can’t be right to pit schools against each other in the battle for resources? The government is committed to a model of school improvement which is based on schools supporting each other and this is what has been at the heart of the improvement in London schools. Once we are fighting for resources this will not be possible.
Even without a national funding formula, we are facing significant financial pressures. School funding is at best standing still as employment and other costs rise significantly year on year. The only way to balance the books therefore is fewer staff, leading to larger class sizes, less support outside the classroom, a reduced curriculum offer and lack of enrichment. Heads across the country are already taking tough decisions and we should all be in a position where we have the necessary resources to maximise the potential of our students. The success of London schools has proved, if nothing else, that if we fund education at the right level, we will get results. Yes to a fair funding formula which allows all schools to offer a rich experience to their students but no to a crass equalization which will only harm the most needy.
Even without a national funding formula, we are facing significant financial pressures. School funding is at best standing still as employment and other costs rise significantly year on year. The only way to balance the books therefore is fewer staff, leading to larger class sizes, less support outside the classroom, a reduced curriculum offer and lack of enrichment. Heads across the country are already taking tough decisions and we should all be in a position where we have the necessary resources to maximise the potential of our students. The success of London schools has proved, if nothing else, that if we fund education at the right level, we will get results.
Yes to a fair funding formula which allows all schools to offer a rich experience to their students but no to a crass equalization which will only harm the most needy.